Just One Fix

Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Thoughts | 13 comments

Religion really is an oddity in humanity. When citing religion, one can be excused for irrational behaviour or beliefs. It gives people an excuse to not take part in the cultural norms of the society they live in. It allows people rights and privileges that people not of that religion are denied. It regularly excuses wrongdoing and lawbreaking if these are done “in the name of God”. It preaches love but inspires war. It preaches tolerance and acceptance, but has been the cause of so much bloodshed in history. Religion is the only place where once can make claims for an unseen being, and not be institutionalised.

The most amazing thing about religion is that, according to religious people I have spoken to, it can create in believers an incredible sense of peace and belonging in the world, and comfort in times of stress or loneliness. I can only believe what I’m told on this, as I’ve never actually experienced this. And all this is above and beyond the dogmatic, the texts and the scriptural followings.

Bernini's "The Ecstacy of St Teresa"

Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St Teresa"

It’s a very powerful phenomenon, and in extreme cases, people have reported feelings of transcendence, of leaving behind their corporeal bodies, of physical ecstasy and of being possessed by a “higher being”.

Trance-like states can be achieved by repeating a certain string of words together while moving in a certain way. Some people say this brings them closer to God. But you can also reach a trance-like state by being hypnotised.

The sculpture above, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Theresa, (1647-52 Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome) features St. Theresa in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy, a cherubic figure poised above here holding a spear, caught in the act of plunging this into her heart. From the account by St. Theresa:

Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire…. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.

This reads like a passage from an Anïas Nin short story, not the memoirs of a saint!

Another interesting moment in the bible that comes to mind is the conversion of Saul, soon to become the apostle Paul, and his conversion to Christianity after falling from a horse and bumping his head, where according to the New Testament, he “heard” God speak to him: “I am Jesus, whom you persecute, arise and go into the city.”

Dan Barker, an ex-evangelical preacher spoke at the Rise Of Atheism Convention in Melbourne of the experience of speaking in tongues as a highly powerful experience.

There are other accounts where people are completely overcome by the “Spirit” of God, Jesus, Allah or whatever deity you choose. All of them, if not related to religion, would be written off as a psychotic episode, the side effects of concussion or a wet dream. Delusional hallucinations can be caused by all manner of things, from injury or extreme mental stress, to hallucinogenic substances. If these “visions” are interpreted as divine, the person suffering from the delusion elevates this experience to be above the physical. I would go so far as to say that many, if not all, holy visions have been the result of trauma (eg. a bump to the head), illness (eg. a brain tumor), a waking dream (eg. visitations from angels) or the deliberate or accidental ingestion of hallucinogens (eg. shamanistic visions).

Karl Marx is quoted as writing “Religion is the opiate of the people” but when read in the context of the rest of the paragraph, this is not exactly what I’m talking about. He seems to speak of religion as a pain-reliever, a way to satiate and soften the heavy burden of existence, rather than a way to get high. I feel this statement may often be said in the wrong context.

I’d like to suggest that religion can trigger in people a drug-like state, and fulfill a need that humans seem to have for reaching altered states of consciousness. I wonder if, like with drugs, there’s not some sort of addictive quality to a so called “higher consciousness”. If that were true, then religion really does act as an opiate to the masses.

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  1. I absolutely love your blogs. You have such an insight and clarity to your writing. It’s beautiful without being overly complex so even I can understand it.

    The first part quoted below just made me say Yes! Yes! Yes! as I kept reading it.

    “Religion really is an oddity in humanity. When citing religion, one can be excused for irrational behaviour or beliefs. It gives people an excuse to not take part in the cultural norms of the society they live in. It allows people rights and privileges that people not of that religion are denied. It regularly excuses wrongdoing and lawbreaking if these are done “in the name of God”. It preaches love but inspires war. It preaches tolerance and acceptance, but has been the cause of so much bloodshed in history. Religion is the only place where once can make claims for an unseen being, and not be institutionalised.”

    So true! The polar opposites between what they preach and what is in reality are glaring. That’s what bothers me the most.

    Now that St. Theresa quote read like an elaborate satisfying orgasm. Whew, that got me all hot and bothered! Sure didn’t sound very holy to me. Very good description though.

    I’ve been religious in my life and I think for me it was more of a sense of apathy to what was going on in the world instead of an altered state. I used to try to feel God around me and once in a while I got this feeling of peace but in retrospect realized it was just peace with myself. That’s a lot headier than peace with an outside supernatural being. I definitely think that religion calms people and makes them feel safe in the world. There is a lot about this world that doesn’t make sense and is hard to take. Make all the sadness go away by saying “Everything God does is for a reason” absolves people of having to actually do something about the horrors of this world. “It’s all in God’s plan” is a lot easier than becoming outspoken about injustice and working to find a solution to a problem.

    When we take responsibility for ourselves and we don’t rely on the crutch of an imaginary being in the sky, we tend to realize that changes are possible if we work for them not just “pray” that something will change. Doing something yourself gives such a sense of accomplishment. This is what the meaning of life is about to me as an Atheist. Helping bring about change for the good of the world, one small step at a time.

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  2. Yes, t’is people’s own mental states at work as Susan Blackmore e-mailed me. People induce religious experience themselves, and despite what atheist Jonathon Harrison’s maintains in ” God,Freedom and Immortality, “” a great book,in regard to Marian apparitions, we naturalists do not beg the question against believers in superstition but t’is they who do so by averring any supernatural entity bit it Mary or be it God who inteterferes in Nature.
    These religious experiences then are no more veridical than any hallucination and so forth! They point to no ontological reality.
    Please check out these blogs and add your wisdom:
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    Ignostic Morgan @ WordPress.com and
    [email protected] .

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  3. Sheila Marie, amen and indeed!
    Oh, liberal religionists might say that it is His will to ameliorate conditions. He speaks with a forked tongue.
    And you and others might add to those three blogs cited above. My neurological problems make my style harder to decipperh,but my comments lead to wisdom!
    I do self-deprecate.

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  4. Great post,

    I would like to add a few things to your blog post. As i have told you before for 18 years I was a very devout believer in the faith of Christianity. I can Honestly say that I have had such experiences as you described above. Nothing that I can say I saw such as mother Teressa, but a very drug like state while in the middle of intense prayer. I can saw that i experienced this at three times in my life. Two of which were on mission trips to West Virgina and Arkansas, and the other was on a high school spiritual retreat. What I experienced was this; after praying for a long period of time in a room filled with candle light, i began to feel as though the “lord” was upon me, I began to cry. It was not that I was sad but that i was so deeply relaxed that I was in a state of mind that was “better”. I experienced these in similar fashion at all three retreats, as well as all most all the others that were with me.

    The question you might be asking is; do you think this was truly a religious experience?. The answer to that question is, at the time i did. The thing is I DID long, for this experience again. To be completely truthful i have never been able to completely reenact my experiences.

    However my Senior year of high school I went under a form a hypnosis in which my experience when i woke up was VERY close to what i had experienced before.

    I know believe that prayer triggers something in our minds that allows us to enter this state of high. I think that it is very possible that these experience could be triggered by something completely absent of any religious element.

    I think that in the case of prayer god is nothing more then a placebo to the meditation element that goes into prayer. The word of your prayers replace the recitation of other non religious words.

    However i will add that i believe that prayer is the easiest way to reach this trans like state because in order to pray deeply, you meditate without having to focus on being focused.

    It is a drug, but is it a bad thing? i would say no to the effects, but bad in the fact that you are tricking your subconscious into believing that you are communicating with another being when in fact you are not.

    The affects of this drug very including acute delusion. women who are pregnant or could become pregnant should not take God because this increases the rick of being delusional. See your doctor before taking God, and ask if God is right for you.


    i am sorry but i just had to add that last part.


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  5. I totally agree with your observations regarding religion. But I don’t understand why you atheists must equate religion with spirituality and ‘God’, and thus limiting yourselves from experiencing a richer existence. Most of us have grown up under the Christian doctrine, and once we had the sense to think for ourselves we realized that it was all bullshit, that the Catholic Church was a big sham designed to control us, and a religion that bred disunity. We also realized that all religions are like that except for maybe Eastern Philosophy. Some people were able to bypass the disenchantment this realization caused, took it with a grain of salt, and tried to look behind the façade of religion to see if there was anything there. They found something much greater than religion, something that was not man made. The atheist went in the other direction and found nothing. Since we are thinking, feeling, open and scientific human beings, I would suggest that every Atheist does a little bit of research into the core of his being, and instead of following the majority (as we like to do), why not get out there and experience things for yourself? Why preach the things every Atheist is preaching instead of doing your own research? To me, Atheism is just another form of religion. It’s certainly gathering more and more followers…

    Ps: I myself have had this ‘drug like’ feeling that you speak of, through meditation. I think the mistake people make is to treat it like a drug. People want to experience it again because it feels good. Wrong. You should want to experience it again because of what it can open you up to. And it also has health benefits

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    • OK I admit we’re looking at 2 different things here. I am opposed to organised religion, sure, but that is not my reasoning for dismissing God. I dismiss God because from my deductions of how the universe works there is no room for a God or Gods, no room for pixies, unicorns, vampires or monsters under the bed. None of that makes sense.

      In my piece, I was simply making a parallel between commonly understood phenomenon and what is claimed as divine. The mind is more powerful that you know, it can do amazing things to itself, our perception and our bodies. It is after-all the control panel for our functioning as physical beings. Look into the effects of the placebo.

      With that let me just say, I’m not implying that I personally understand everything, or that even humanity as a whole is even CLOSE to understanding everything. But what I am saying, and what I have said time and time again on this blog is that we shouldn’t take things on face value, rather that we should constantly be asking questions about the nature of our existences, the nature of the universe, the nature of humanity. When people take things at face value only, they open themselves up for others to take advantage of them and their situations.

      As for “you atheists”, who do you mean? I know many atheists who claim “spirituality”, and many who don’t. Don’t lump us all into the same basket, the only thing we have in common is a disbelief of God. See http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/thatsallthereis/, http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/what-an-atheist-believes/ and http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/an-atheists-perspective/.

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    • In relation to understanding new things, you may be interested in this article from New Scientist “Brain shuts off in response to healer’s prayer”

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  6. Mr Pribble, having skimmed over your other posts, I have come to the conclusion that we have pretty much the same beliefs. The only notable difference is that you like to call yourself an Atheist, and I like to call myself spiritual. If we go by the definition of Atheist, I am an Atheist too, but I won’t call myself that because to me it implies that I have no belief in anything more than the physical aspects of the Universe, and everything within it would have to be physically proven, or otherwise it cannot exist. To me the Universe and human beings are more than just the physical.

    I have immense respect for Carl Jung who emphasized the importance of balance and harmony. He cautioned that modern people rely too heavily on natural science and logical positivism and would benefit from integrating spirituality and appreciation of unconscious realms. He explored the worlds of dreams, mythology, religion, philosophy including Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology, sociology, as well as literature and the arts, and he came up with the idea of Synchronicity as well. When I say Atheists need to do their own research, this is what I am talking about. I find a lot of people are jumping on the Atheist bandwagon without having a clue, because it’s the done thing these days. They like preaching about the Godlessness of this world, but just like the believers, they have no proof that there is no ‘God’. Now, don’t misunderstand my definition of ‘God’. By ‘God’ I mean the energy of the Universe, the Syncronicity within it, the potential of the human being etc. I am talking about the original ‘God’ that was turned into a heaven dwelling lightning bolt throwing entity by a bunch of backwards morons.

    The Atheist’s time could be much better spent by doing a bit of thinking/feeling/experimenting for themselves instead of taking everything at face value (which I believe you said yourself regarding the believer). This would contribute more to the development and betterment of our society. ☮

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    • Thanks for your comments “Your Mother”. I spent much of my teen years and my twenties “thinking/feeling/experimenting”. It’s not as if I have just jumped “on the Atheist bandwagon without having a clue, because it’s the done thing these days.” Far from it in fact. I’m not some rambling teenager who hasn’t lived beyond my PlayStation. If I come across that way, well I fear I am misrepresenting myself.

      I come to my conclusions by research, by reading, by formulating my own opinions based on what i have learned. Beacuse I am of no specific doctrine, these opinions are from my own observations, not simply spouting the words of Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers etc.

      “Face value” refers to what is the first, often unfounded explanation, an explanation that does not seek further than what appears on the surface. The things I talk of are the result of a fair bit of digging and learning on my part, so it’s hardly based on first appearances.

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  7. I wasn’t suggesting that you are some rambling teenager, you have made very many valid comments in your posts. I suggest that there is more to life than what Dawkins and the like believe. Just because the ‘God’ that was fed to us turned out to be a lie, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something behind the veil of the lies. We have gone from the extreme of the Christian God to the extreme of Science, where nothing but which is physically explainable exists. There is no reason why there cannot be an in-between. People respect Dawkins because he has the nerve to speak up against organized religion, and to declare that God is dead. Nietzsche already did that in 1882.

    There is a depth to human beings that cannot be explained by Science alone. The day we incorporate all the disciplines that are known to us will be the day we get closer to explaining the reason behind our existence, and get closer to exposing our real selves which in my opinion are much more than what Science allows us to be.

    I myself have come to my conclusions by research, by reading, by constantly evaluating myself, my psyche, the people around me, the minuscule details of my life, the oddities of existence.

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    • I do like what you have to say. And I do agree that there is more to us than can be explained scientifically… At least for now. There is a science for everything eventually, and as our understanding grows, our very definitions of what makes us human will shift too. I am saying that we need to keep looking to find the answers.

      I’m not sure that we understand enough about humans nor the universe to say that the answers lie in the spiritual world. I still see that as an “I don’t know” answer.

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  8. I totally agree, we need to keep looking. But we need to be open towards exploring all avenues to satisfy our search. I find Science by itself limiting in this aspect, and I find it disconcerting that so many people are putting their faith in the one discipline, and shutting out all others. Science has given us a lot of information but there are too many unanswered questions, and ambiguous answers. The man’s search for meaning continues…

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  9. @Your Mother I’ve heard this a lot, the “other ways of knowing” sort of thing. Now my question is: what are these ways? It always seems to be something on the lines of thoughts or feelings that one needs to pray, meditate or somehow trance-like attain. I do not deny these effects-they are very real. Just what is really going on though? It’s an old conundrum-if the thing happening can only be seen by you, is it happening? Or “how” is it happening? Now, we know there are things which exist that cannot be seen with our eyes, but they can still be measured. Scientists are first to admit we do not know everything, this is precisely what science is about, understanding. If something cannot be shown, verified, falsifiable, how do we know? So what is this “other stuff”? If it’s something we have not yet pinned down, in a way that can be measured, ok fine. Otherwise, how do we know it’s “out there” not within the brain?

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  1. It’s all in your head « Atheist Climber - [...] I have mentioned in the past, people knowingly alter their states of consciousness in order to “attain [...]

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